Foreign Comedies Hollywood Won’t Stop Trying to Remake
For every successful American version of a foreign comedy (see The Office), there lies a string of dead remakes in its wake so terrible and off-putting that those involved would love for everyone to just forget about them. That’s a big ask, though, since Hollywood simply can’t stop taking a stab at the same popular foreign IP because, sometimes, learning is hard, especially when distracted by daydreams of diving into money piles Scrooge McDuck-style if things go right.
Obviously, I’m not saying Hollywood should never attempt to remake a foreign comedy (even though the U.S. has more than enough talent to create original stories). But the general choice of titles is, confusing at best, and a desperate reach at worst. The problem isn’t the premises — most of them could work in a U.S. setting — but the foreign humor embedded in the original seems to turn into gibberish when run through the American Funny machine. Either way, this much is certain: It’s not from a lack of trying.
Despite being a 1990s movie — and therefore aging like one — the French film Taxi remains a classic comedy filled with witty humor, entertaining car chases and a dripping disdain for anyone wearing a police badge. It’s silly, over-the-top and has more car crashes than a Michael Bay movie.
One of the biggest and most blatant differences between the French film and its American remake starring Queen Latifah and, for some inexplicable reason, Jimmy Fallon, is the cop angle. While the original goes to great lengths to showcase the stupidity of the French police force, which tries (and fails) multiple times to catch a group of German bank robbers, the American version has none of that — probably because criticizing American cops is seen by many as an affront to God. A pity, really, since so much of the original’s comedy revolves around police incompetence and cops giving each other ridiculous code names like “Cougars” and “Grass Snakes.”
Instead, the remake mostly shows cops ogling at villainess supermodel Gisele Bündchen and her posse because this movie’s main focus is to show you how hot these women are.
Listen, I don’t mind any of the gender-swapping in this movie, but unfortunately, our villains were apparently only changed into women to satisfy the male gaze. I also don’t mind that the remake decided to put Queen Latifah, who’s by far the best thing about this movie, in the driver’s seat. But it’s super lame that we immediately hear her boss tell her in the first scene: “You’re the best man I’ve ever had.”
While the French film played on the sensitivities of Franco-German relations, the American version made their villains Portuguese because that’s also a language Bündchen speaks, I guess. Oh, and Fallon tries to bust a couple of drug dealers in his opening sequence while pretending to be Cuban and looking like this:
In the French original, we’re introduced to the incompetent “Muppet” cop as he’s failing his driver’s test and crashes into a bakery. In the American version, Fallon screws up a drug bust, gets his partner shot, then reverses into a corner deli while using… hand signals? That’s the remake’s biggest problem: If the jokes aren’t louder, dumber versions of its French counterpart, then we’re left with shots of Fallon’s butt in Latifah’s face.
Of course, the widely-panned movie didn’t stop any attempts at making Taxi a thing in the U.S. (it spawned another three movies in France, after all), and in 2014 NBC released Taxi Brooklyn, a French-American action-comedy police procedural so bad it didn’t make it past its first season.
‘The I.T. Crowd,’ the U.K.
While its creator would later be diagnosed with a terminal case of shit for brains, the original I.T. Crowd had no weak link in the acting department. Everyone’s on point in the British sitcom about an I.T. department where two out of three people understand computers, and no one understands Matt Berry. It’s got universal nerd culture cred but is rooted in deadpan British humor — which is why casting Joel McHale as the lead in an American version of the sitcom is as bizarre as putting beans on toast and calling it breakfast.
You may wonder, “Wait, how the hell did I miss Joel McHale asking people if they tried turning their computers off and on again?” Well, it’s because the show was never released. A pilot was filmed, and a full series was ordered by NBC in the mid-2000s, but production was ultimately canned because execs weren’t feeling it. That pilot later leaked online, and while it’s been taken down since, scattered fragments remain inside YouTube videos. Here, for instance, is one that synced the pilot’s opening with that of the original, proving that McHale is just too slick and smug to play Roy and that Richard Ayoade as Moss would be spot-on throughout every alternate universe:
NBC tried again in 2014, this time with the producers of Community — a show that knew how to use McHale — before failing for a third time in 2018. We have no idea why those last two attempts bombed, but we bet it’s because no one can play Matt Berry like Matt Berry.
‘Fawlty Towers,’ the U.K.
Fawlty Towers is considered the greatest British sitcom ever made, so it’s no wonder that U.S. television execs would like themselves a piece of that Cornish pie. The show stars Monty Python's John Cleese as the highly-strung and sardonic hotelier Basil Fawlty and his ridiculous life of running his hotel.
Helping Basil along the way is his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales), who herself is a force to be reckoned with as she puts up with her husband’s taunting temperament. The quid pro quo on that count: He puts up with that hairdo.
It’s a legendary show, which means it’s seen a full three attempts at an American remake. The 1978 Chateau Snavely was the first, starring Blazing Saddles' Harvey Korman and none other than the beloved Betty White. But apparently, the shift in setting from a coastal hotel to a highway motel proved to be its undoing, and production was canceled. Judging, however, by the full pilot that’s available online, we’d say it was a little more than that.
Turns out that dumbing down characters and reducing Basil Fawlty to a whiny, yelling, handwaving grump doesn’t translate so well. The chemistry was clearly off with this casting, and White had to carry every scene she was in. Strange, then, that when ABC tried to take another stab at it, they switched White with her future Golden Girls co-star, Bea Arthur — and made Arthur play the role of Fawlty.
Amanda’s lasted 13 episodes before the network called it a day, and no one has ever attempted another remake… hahaha, of course they did. Right before the turn of the century, CBS apparently decided they were the ones to accomplish the impossible. Their version of Fawlty Towers (called Payne) saw eight episodes hit the air, before the inevitable happened again. (Warning: What you’re about to watch is very 1990s.)
‘Peep Show,’ the U.K.
The critically-acclaimed British sitcom Peep Show follows two very different, very dysfunctional best friends, Mark and Jeremy (played by the always funny duo of David Mitchell and Robert Webb), minding their way through life and constantly failing at everything. The show uses POV shots and character narration to hilariously portray their perspectives and inner thoughts.
The setup and execution seem easy enough to replicate pretty much anywhere, especially given that there are no real character arcs or development happening, and the show plays more as a comical study of existentialism. Yet every remake attempted in the U.S. seems to go where Mark and Jeremy’s hopes and dreams constantly end up: flushed down the toilet. A 2005 pilot attempt starring Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory) was shot down, and Spike TV tried to get the original creators to come on board for a remake in 2008, which ultimately didn’t happen.
Starz tried to give it a go as well in 2016, and in 2019 FX got Community writer Karey Dornetto to get something off the ground. FX is currently trying again, with Atlanta writer Stefani Robinson slated to write and produce. If there’s one show on this list that might succeed, it’s this one. It apparently just takes half a dozen times to get right.
Zanandi is, regrettably, still on Twitter.